Why you should be worried about your picky eater

When I was growing up, I could count the number of fruits and vegetables that I liked on one hand. It was very limiting and I liked it that way. I refused to touch anything that didn't look and smell amazing to me.

No matter how much my mom or friends begged me to try something new, I just wouldn't. Although the number of things I grew to like grew a bit over the years, it wasn't until recently that I realized something may be seriously wrong with my pickiness: when I told a friend that the thought of trying a new food made me physically shake, she told me I may have a phobia.

I was shocked but, after doing a little research, I realized that she may be right. I decided to do something about it and started trying to force myself out of what I thought was simply a bad habit. But now researchers are beginning to recognize that I may not be the only one suffering from what some call Selective Eating Disorder (SED).


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It's difficult to diagnose because the condition straddles the line between mental and food-related syndromes and health professionals can't agree on what causes it. Some suggest it comes from anxiety due to past traumatic experiences (such as chocking on a food with a particular texture), others say that it could stem from a phobia of trying unfamiliar things while yet others think it can be linked to autism or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

For me, it feels like it was all of the above: I can definitely be a little OCD about certain things (like the way my kitchen is organized), I definitely felt a phobia-like fear when I thought about trying new foods (I had a particularly bad afternoon with blueberries) and I always thought that, somehow, trying the new food would immediately make me gag. I don't know where that feeling came from, but it was always there.

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It's still there, actually. Although I now recognized that this isn't healthy and I am actively forcing myself to try new foods, I still sometimes get physically anxious about trying a new dish--usually fruits or vegetables, to be honest. But that's exactly why I make myself keep trying it, because living with SED can have health consequences.

For me, the most visible consequences were being overweight and a yo-yo dieter for most of my life, until I finally got a gastric bypass to lose the weight. But now I make myself eat healthier to keep the weight off and to keep away the nutritional effects, as Dr. Sondra Kronberg (a clinical nutrition therapist and the spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association) points out, of  "dehydration, malnutrition, bone loss, and hormonal imbalance."

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Unfortunately, SED is not yet officially recognized as an eating disorder. But it definitely should be. When I think about what I went through and even how I still struggle, despite making tremendous leaps in the past two years, it's still not easy. And I know plenty of other people that are so-called "picky eaters" who may actually be suffering from SED.

It's something to keep an eye out if your child is currently a picky eater. He or she may grow out of it naturally or it can be something that they struggle with their entire lives, like I am. For now it's important to talk about it and recognize that, sometimes, being a picky eater isn't as simple as just being picky. It can be an eating disorder, too.  

What do you do to help your picky eater kids eat more fruits and veggies?

Image via Sean Dreilinger/flickr

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